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I’m a stay-at-home dad. People say all kinds of dumb things to stay-at-home dads. This blog began as a way for me to record these comments and criticize the people who said them. However, it's evolved, and I now use it to express other random thoughts on parenting, children, gender, and society. Thanks for checking it out.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Boys Will Be Boys: A Bunch of BS

The other day, while my son was at school, I took my two-year-old daughter down to the local community center for our weekly playgroup. While the kids played and crammed crackers into their mouths and the parents chatted and sipped coffee, I sat in my usual spot away from the group, observing everything from a distance. Once again, I was the only dad in attendance, and the moms were engaged in the same conversations they have most other weeks.

There’s one mom in particular who does a lot of the talking, and I overheard her giving a speech she’d given before. She was talking about boys, explaining to the other moms that boys are “naturally more aggressive” than girls, that rowdiness is in their DNA.

“Thats just how boys are, she said matter-of-factly. 

This indisputable truth, she argued, is why her toddler son keeps running around like a maniac, shoving other kids and destroying everything he can get his grubby little hands on. His behavior couldn’t possibly have anything to do with her parenting methods or the kid’s own individual psyche. It must be his gender.

“I mean, what can you really do?” she asked rhetorically, as her son chased after another boy, wrestled him to the ground, and snatched a toy from him.

It’s the familiar “boys will be boys” mentality, and it drives me insane. We’ve all heard it, and if you’re a parent, you’ve heard it more times than you can count. You hear it whenever two boys are beating the crap out of each other on the playground, whenever a boy refuses to share, whenever a boy enthusiastically vandalizes something.

“Boys will be boys” never refers to good behavior. Only bad. Fighting, rule-breaking, general mischief—that’s when people say “boys will be boys.” And the boys hear it. This means we’re telling our boys from day one that bad behavior is acceptable, excusable, and even expected from them. Then, of course, we become distraught when they grow up and do terrible things.

Boys will be boys, right?

Is it a stretch to say that a boy who’s allowed to pummel another boy on the playground will grow up to be a killer? Probably. After all, plenty of boys get in fights, and most grow up to be normal, well-adjusted non-killers. But what about those boys who grow up to be monsters? Was their bad behavior constantly justified when they were growing up? Was there too much condoning and not enough correcting?

It’s a chicken-or-egg situation for sure. Do we assume men are naturally more aggressive because they commit these deplorable crimes, or do men commit these deplorable crimes because we’re always telling them they’re naturally more aggressive?

I don’t know the answer. I’m not a psychologist or a criminologist. I’m merely a dad trying my best to raise a boy and a girl. I just can’t help but think that if my son hears over and over again that bad behavior is in his blood, he’ll grow up believing it. And if my daughter hears that boys are helpless to stop their natural tendency toward violence, she’ll grow up learning to accept some pretty despicable behavior from the opposite sex.

That leads me to my next example, from a few weeks ago, when my daughter and I were at an indoor playground (a common thing in our cold climate). She was at the top of a slide, getting ready to go down, when a boy who was about the same age elbowed her out of the way and went down the slide ahead of her. I wasn’t all that upset by the kid’s actions, because these things happen all the time with little kids. What I took issue with was the mom’s reaction. She simply laughed, shook her head, and said, “Typical boy!” Not a word to her son—just vindication of his bad behavior.

What if her kid were a girl? Would she have called her a “typical girl”? Or would she have done something? And if she says “typical boy” when her son is two, will she still say it when he’s three? What about when he’s six? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty? In other words, when can that kid and his mom stop using “typical boy” as a defense?

Most of us learn at some point that, as adults, we can’t shove people out of our way at work or at the grocery store, no matter how much we might want to. The key words there are “most of us.” Some people never learn this, and if violent crime statistics are any indication, those people are far more likely to be men. So, why wait to teach our boys that this behavior is unacceptable? Why not teach it from the very beginning, like we do with girls? Sure, two-year-olds will still push and shove and be difficult, but if that behavior is left uncorrected—if it’s met with a shoulder shrug instead of a negative consequence—it will only continue and be harder to correct in the future.

I know it’s easy for me to sit here and talk like I have all the answers, as if raising a child is simple. I don’t mean to come off that way. No parent can tell another parent how to raise their kids. If you insist on perpetuating the “boys will be boys” mentality with your own children, I can’t force you to change. I can, however, ask you to not say it around my kids, because it’s not in line with what my wife and I are trying to teach them.

I can also challenge you to pause the next time your son pushes, shoves, hits, punches, kicks, or tackles another child and ask yourself the following question: If I don’t step in and stop my son now, when will I? At what age should he learn that boys aren’t entitled to violence and aggression just because they’re boys? Or—and maybe this is the better question—at what age will I as an adult learn that?


  1. I commend you for your insight into parenting. You and Christine will probably have the most well adjusted kids in school. Given the state of many schools these days, at some point you may just decide to home school. Whatever happens, your kids are lucky to have you as parents.

    1. Thanks, Noreen! Homeschooling...that's a huge responsibility. At least it is when it's done right. So far we're happy with Nelsen's school. It's an MPS Montessori school. It's not perfect and is under-funded (like all public schools), but he's getting a good education. It starts at 3K, so Mena will go there for half-days this fall.

  2. Something to think about! Nice piece.

  3. Great piece! Drives me mad too. I am a stay at home dad and my children are 7 and 8 now so I dont have to go to all those children's groups. However even now I still hear it. Its also talked about in terms of academic performance. When my son struggled with his writing many people just said its because he is a boy. Annoyed me so much!